The 1975 Thunderbird:
Could It Be the Best Luxury Car Buy in America?
Ford always advertised the Thunderbird as the luxury car that cost less
than other luxury cars. In the early sixties, advertising copy admonished
what a wise investment a Thunderbird was, as they retained more of their
value at trade in time. Another ad advised a husband what to tell his wife
before the Thunderbird came. One of the talking points was that it cost
far less than other luxury cars. But did this hold true for 1975? Several
ads appeared asking the question "Could it be the best luxury car
buy in America?" Let's investigate.
We'll take the top personal luxury cars available at the time, which include
the Continental Mark IV, Cadillac Eldorado, Buick Riviera, Oldsmobile Toronado,
and the Imperial LeBaron Crown Coupe. Here are the specifics on each, including
the Thunderbird, ranked in order of sales:
1. 1975 Continental Mark IV $11,082
2. 1975 Ford Thunderbird $7,701
3. 1975 Oldsmobile Toronado $6,536
4. 1975 Cadillac Eldorado Coupe $9,935
5. 1975 Buick Riviera $6,420
6. 1975 Imperial LeBaron Crown Coupe $9,277
We can immediately see that the Thunderbird was neither the most popular
personal luxury car, nor the least expensive for 1975. Its sister nameplate,
the Mark IV, outsold it by 4,460 units. And the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile
Toronado all had lower base prices than the T-bird, which indicates people
shopping for price alone might not consider the T-bird the best luxury
car buy in America, since its base price started $1,300-1,400 higher than
that of the Riviera or Toronado.
Possibly, the ad should have asked, "Why buy a Mark IV for almost
$3,700 more when a Thunderbird is almost the same car?" It's a legitimate
question, since both cars were essentially the same. The Lincoln had that
classic grille, hidden headlights, and a hump on the deck lid, but the
power trains were identical, the seats inside were very similar, the same
options were offered, and the cars even had similar styling—other
than the few things noted above. No one was going to feel sorry for you
if you pulled up in a new Thunderbird instead of a Mark IV or Eldorado.
So what might have made Thunderbird the best luxury car buy in America
For one thing, it was an icon. Much more than some of the others in its
class. It had name recognition that ranked right up there at the top of
the list. The Thunderbird was a prestige automobile, but not quite as snooty
in its appeal as a Lincoln or Cadillac in the minds of some. A survey of
new 1970 Thunderbird owners indicated that many felt their Thunderbird
was as good as or superior to the Continental Mark III, so the T-bird has
always been in good company, as far as making an impression. And there's
no doubt that having a personal luxury car offering from a sister division
did have an impact on T-bird sales over the years.
Thunderbird's level of standard equipment was quite respectable for 1975.
One could literally walk in and order a standard car with no extras and
have a better equipped car than most on the road at the time. And 1975
would have been the year to do it, since many items that were standard
for '75 moved to the options list for 1976. In this respect, the Thunderbird
was the best equipped of the bunch, while maintaining a reasonable base
price. The Mark IV had more standard features, but to many, the difference
in the base price between the two cars wasn't justified due to the extras
alone. The money you saved buying a new Riviera or Toronado instead of
a T-bird would be spent quickly once you started adding options to those
two cars, which is the same theory Lincoln used against Cadillac when explaining
its higher base price. And, the Thunderbird was still holding its value
pretty well at trade in time. It certainly fared better than the Riviera
and Toronado, which were somewhat cold in the market.
So yes, it's possible that the Thunderbird was the best luxury car buy
in America, all things considered. It wasn't the best equipped, nor the
least expensive, nor the most popular. But it was the best balance of all
these things, plus it was an icon that clearly demonstrated to the world
that its owner had achieved some degree of success, and was a bit more
selective about the luxury car they drove. Nothing too upscale, but certainly
a cut above most other cars on the road.
Very few changes were made for 1975. The standard front bumper guards were
moved further apart to provide better protection during minor impacts,
and the Deluxe Bumper Group option was made standard, which included additional
rub strips front and rear. The front cornering lamps were put back on the
standard equipment list, where they had been for most of 1969 through 1971.
Inside the flight cabin, a new Ford corporate steering wheel design with
a revised center padded hub section was rolled out to all FoMoCo cars.
It differed from earlier versions by angling down somewhat at each end.
This provided better visibility for the driver when checking instruments.
A soothing AM/FM stereo radio with four speakers and a fixed length antenna
was standard on all Thunderbirds as well.
New options for 1975 included Deep Dish Aluminum Wheels, Wide Band White
Sidewall Tires, 4-Wheel Disc Brakes, and a Low Fuel Economy Warning Light.
Several new Luxury Groups were available, including the Silver Luxury Group,
Copper Luxury Group, and a Jade Luxury Group, introduced later in the year
in April 1975. As before, each Luxury Group consisted of specific interior
and exterior color combinations not available on other Thunderbirds.
The Four Wheel Disc Brake option featured a small plaque mounted to the
instrument panel to the left of the steering column. In fact, it is quite
prominent in its position between the steering column and headlight switch/SelectAire
Conditioner controls. This makes it very easy to spot cars equipped with
this option, which wasn't frequently checked off on the order form, so
the cars still around today with this option are few and far between.
Ford expanded on the popular and successful Luxury Group option in 1975
by offering two new ones at the beginning of the year, and adding a third
late in the model year.
The Silver Luxury Group was painted in a Silver Starfire finish with a
Silver vinyl roof in either full or half styles, depending on Sunroof or
Moonroof installation. Inside, upholstery of soft shimmery Silver Leather
seating surfaces, or Dark Red leather or Dark Red Picton Velour, depending
on your taste. A Dark Red accent stripe provided the perfect accent to
top off the Silver Luxury Group. Deluxe Wheel Covers and deluxe luggage
compartment trim were also part of the package.
The Copper Luxury Group featured a Copper Starfire or Polar White finish
with a Copper vinyl roof, again in full or half styles determining on Sunroof
or Moonroof installation. Custom body accent stripes in a bright gold trimmed
the sides of the car, as well as the hood and deck lid. Metallic Copper
Leather seating surfaces or Copper Media Velour upholstery were provided
inside. Copper colored wide vinyl bodyside moldings, Deep Dish Wheels,
and color-keyed luggage compartment trim were also provided.
In April 1975, the Jade Luxury Group was announced which featured Jade
Starfire or Polar White paint, a Jade or White Normande grain half vinyl
roof (full with Sunroof or Moonroof), and Jade or White paint stripes,
depending on body color. Inside, Jade Media Velour or White Leather seating
surfaces with Jade vinyl side panels and components provided a two-tone
interior effect that would become more popular over the next few years.
Wire Wheel Covers and deluxe luggage compartment trim were also a part
of the Jade Luxury Group.
If one of the Luxury Groups wasn't your thing, you could choose from 19
standard and optional paint finishes, 10 coordinated accent stripe colors,
10 vinyl roof shades, and 32 different interior color and material combinations
to create a Thunderbird tailored to your specific needs. And that's one
area where the Thunderbird was without question the best: at offering the
luxury of choice. Over the years the Thunderbird had changed (sometimes
dramatically) to keep up with current trends and the demands of the luxury
car buying public. For 1975, the T-bird offered a traditionally-sized luxury
cruiser that was almost silent at highway speeds. It provided almost every
comfort or convenience option most people wanted as standard equipment,
and it offered a long list of options to satisfy the demands of even the
most discerning buyer. And if that isn't the best luxury car buy in America,
we can't imagine what would be.